PLAQUEMINE —Ochsner Health System on Tuesday opened a health clinic on Plaza Drive to provide a wide range of women’s services and prenatal care for expectant mothers before it is absorbed into a planned $19 million medical complex in 2014.

Ochsner officials said the new, 4,000-square-foot health center, formerly the Westside Center for Women, is the health system’s first facility in the parish.

Dr. Ralph Dauterive, Ochsner Baton Rouge’s vice president of medical affairs and chairman of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, said the Plaquemine health center fills a void created by the retirement of the area’s only obstetrician and gynecologist, who had practiced in the parish more than 20 years.

“That was very disruptive for these women; a lot of them had to go across the river (into Baton Rouge) for medical attention,” Dauterive said. “This is a very underserviced area. He was seeing 20 to 25 pregnant women here a day. We think there were double that many going to Baton Rouge.”

The parish has been without its own hospital since 2008, when River West Medical Center closed after receiving heavy damage from Hurricane Gustav.

Ochsner Health Center —Plaquemine will operate with a rotating staff of seven physicians, eight midwives and a nurse practitioner, Ochsner Chief Executive Officer Eric McMillen said during a ceremony marking the center’s official opening.

McMillen said he expects the health center to provide prenatal care and outpatient medical services to about 5,000 women annually.

Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso announced the parish is in the process of seeking bids to build a $19 million medical complex which will be operated by Ochsner.

The planned 43,000-square-foot medical complex, to be built on a 27-acre site off La. 1 near Senator Gay Boulevard, will have 24 patient exam/procedure rooms, laboratory and radiology services as well as an emergency center.

The parish is funding the facility through its share of $22 million in hurricane recovery funds from the Louisiana Office of Community Development.

“In 2009, when we lost our only medical center, River West Medical, we spent an enormous amount of money trying to save the facility,” Ourso told the crowd attending the ceremony.

Ourso said the parish pumped more than $1 million into trying to rehabilitate the hurricane-damaged hospital before giving up and reaching out to Ochsner.

Ourso said the parish plans to open bids on the new medical facility on April 16. The parish expects construction on the project to be completed by late 2014, he added.

When the new medical complex does open, Dauterive said, the Plaza Drive health center will relocate there.

“We hope people will appreciate the care we’ll be providing over here,” Dauterive said.